The exquisite Esfahan was our next stop and proved to be an absolute jewel of a city and incredibly welcoming place too. The awe-inspiring Sheikh Lotfollah and Imam Mosques dominate the second largest square in the world after Mao Zedong’s grand Tiananmen Square. The mosques themselves are the most visited architectural wonders of ancient Persia, if not the world – to be ranked in comparison with the architecture of Coliseum or the Parthenon and the splendour of the Cistine Chapel. We enjoyed tea and waterpipes with the locals on riverside cafes and witnessed a Zurkanah event – a sort of structured keep-fit class complete with a live drummer/singer and poetry recital. Odd. After two days we arrived in Shiraz with a slight hangover from the wonderful Esfahan, disappointed that we had to leave and wishing we could have stayed longer, whilst at the same time vowing to return to a country that was ineffably kind to us.
Shiraz offered a different kind of Iran but unfortunately this supposedly poetic, flowery, romantic city was slightly lost on us due to a poor hotel and waking in the morning to a flat battery. A local gay-man chatting-up Richard provided some distraction, the geexer just generally naming particularly rude parts of the male personage and asking whether Richard had a good one of it or them. This doesn’t require much imagination and the dialogue was cut short by Richard heading for the hills. Transcripts of the conversation are available on request. Seriously.
We soon went on our way and headed for the ancient city of Persopolis on Thursday morning. Built by Darius I two and a half thousand years ago and added to by his son Xerxes, it is not hard to imagine the original grandeur of the city that lay at the heart of the Persian Empire. As with many cities in the east it was razed to the ground by Alexander the Great and his unstoppable Macedonian army but the desert has kept much of the intricate detail in the remaining stonework clearly visible.
We afforded ourselves brief stops in Yazd and then Kerman before finally making our way to the drug smuggling town of Zahedan on Sunday. Our guide book had heavy warnings about the wisdom of parking a car in this town due to its proximity to the notorious Baluchistan province of Pakistan but there is no other way to the border so needs must. We had little Iranian rials left and could not afford a hotel, so decided to park outside a small restaurant and hatch a plan that involved not being killed by the locals. Luckily for us three local men happened to spot the Land Rover and noticing that it had a British registration plate were eager to meet the owners. One of them – Amin – had spent 6 years in London in his youth and spoke excellent English. We made friends very quickly and they kindly offered us secure parking in the school playground. We needed to fill up on petrol for the border crossing in the morning and rather than inconvenience us with having to drive to the petrol station – these generous people went themselves and filled cans to bring back for us. Then they insisted on paying for it aswell. Amazing.
They had an ambitious plan to install some Solar Panels for water heating on the school so Dwyer advised them as much as he could and we ended up staying up until 2am discussing various topics.
Thus ended our last full day in Iran. We left feeling humbled by the culture of hospitality of this place and slightly ashamed that our ignorance of this country and its people was a source of worry to us before. Of all the countries we have visited before now – this one leapt straight to the top of the must return list.
Richard and Dwyer